First-time authors Chaz Harris and Adam Reynolds have been all over the international media lately, thanks to the success of their self-published, crowdfunded picture book, Promised Land.
It’s a fairy tale about ‘friendship, responsibility, adventure and love’ which just happens to have a gay love story at its heart. The Sapling talked to the authors about how they made the book.
The authors, Adam Reynolds (left) and Chaz Harris
You both have backgrounds as playwrights and screenwriters. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience in those areas? Why did you decide to tell this particular story in book form?
Chaz Harris: Both of us are visual storytellers, having worked in web series and short film mediums. I tend to create a lot of content aimed at young adults. That prior experience translated really well to the picture book format to bring our vision to life the same way we would with a film. I think it came out of some of my frustration, like Maya Angelou said: 'There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you'. Aside from the personal reasons why this was an important story to tell, it was a great opportunity to be able to release something where overcoming the gatekeepers or entry threshold was possible. What's the point of writing all the time if you can't get it in front of people?
What was it like writing a book together? How did you do it?
Adam Reynolds: I actually came up with the initial idea on the bus. It came about when I was thinking about how much easier it would have been growing up if I had had a gay fairy tale. Realising that even now, there isn’t much representation of LGBT people in children’s media, it dawned on me that I should just create one. I was meeting with Chaz about a short film I had written and mentioned the idea to him. Immediately we started bouncing ideas back and forth!
CH: After we'd had a chat I went home, and a few hours later I'd written a three-page email from all the possibilities. We arranged to sit down for four hours and after a wall full of Post-its, we had the full story all laid out. We then wrote a long-form version of the story, much like how we'd approach a film treatment, which we then worked to refine and shape into something nice to read (with the help of our editor Rebecca Gumbley). We met up to go through the rewrites - it went through iterations of being all prose, then all rhyming, until we decided on this format: the first and last page being rhyming bookends to the main story which is in prose.
The illustrations have an ‘animated movie’ feel to them. Can you talk a little about the design process and illustrative style of the book?
CH: Because we come from a film-making background, we wanted to create illustrations that had a cinematic and exciting feel about them, as though they leaped off the page. This was part of the brief we gave Christine Luiten, our fantastic lead illustrator, and Bo Moore, who created a lot of our wonderful backgrounds.
AR: It was great fun seeing our characters and locations come to life in Christine and Bo’s hands. We approached the illustration process very much like an animated film too. We started with some rough sketches of each page, then took those and did a photoshoot with some local actors filling in for our characters. This helped us refine the character’s poses and the framing of each page. From there Christine did some refined sketches which, once approved, were passed onto Bo to begin the backgrounds. Bo began with a colour rough of each page to find the colour palette then moved onto completing the backgrounds. After that they were passed back to Christine to illustrate the characters into the finished backgrounds.
You launched the book on Valentine’s Day and simultaneously held a fundraiser for InsideOUT. Why do you support InsideOUT?
CH: Both of us were bullied at school for our sexuality when we weren't even sure what being gay meant. InsideOUT's work with young people to make schools and our communities a safer place is invaluable. They're also largely funded through donations and fundraising, after starting out as a voluntary service for LGBTQ youth, so we felt it was important to support them. They are at the coalface of working with the same young people we are hoping to help through representation in media.
Writing, making and publishing a book is no small feat. What did you learn?
CH: That we know nothing! Haha. No, honestly? I guess it's so much easier than it used to be, with technology and the internet. If you do the research, it's possible to do it but it's certainly not for the faint of heart. Marketing is everything.
AR: It’s been a giant learning curve! We knew fairly little about the publishing world before making the book so it was like jumping in the deep end. It’s been stressful at times but also exciting, every time I hold the book in my hands I still can’t believe we actually did it!
The book has had a lot of publicity both in New Zealand and internationally. Any insider tips on how to market a self-published book?
CH: I think the unique thing about this book is we are operating in a massive void in the market for children's literature, where very little quality content exists featuring LGBT characters (let alone a love story). Representation matters, and so if you create the thing people want to see, then it's easier to market. On a purely process-based level - I spent a lot of long nights with two hours sleep, writing emails and crafting press releases to get the book noticed. It's not easy, but if you have a compelling personal story to tell about why your book matters, then that's going to interest the media.
Where can people buy the book?
CH: The eBook and audiobook (narrated by Geraldine Brophy) are available on our website. While stocks last, we have the first edition hardcover print edition available on our website and from the bookstores listed on our website as well.
AR: The eBook can also be found on Amazon Kindle and iBooks. We're going to be at Out in the Park on Saturday 18th March in Wellington. We launched the Kickstarter campaign for the book there last year, so it’s great to be back this year with a finished book to share!
What’s next for the two of you?
CH: We'll see how this book goes and if it proves successful, we'd like to bring out some further stories representing more of our community beyond gay men.
AR: Yes, there's a whole Kingdom to explore!
By Adam Reynolds & Chaz Harris
Illustrated by Christine Luiten & Bo Moore
Published by Promised Land Entertainment